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Legislature is caught in a feud over child custody and support

(Daily Republic file photo)

PIERRE — Child support and child custody are splitting the Legislature this year.

At odds are lawmakers who want to adjust the child-support payment schedule for the first time since 2009 and lawmakers who want joint custody to become the presumed arrangement in divorce cases.

Each side seems to have enough votes to block the other's legislation.

The latest incident came Tuesday. A Senate panel decided Tuesday to delay its decision on whether to endorse changes in the child-support payment schedule.

The full House of Representatives rejected the same changes 35-31 on Jan. 18.

Sen. Art Rusch, R-Vermillion, introduced the Senate version of the changes on Jan. 31 after their defeat in the House.

An official state commission recommended the changes.

They included reducing payment amounts between lower-income parents and increasing amounts between higher-income parents.

Sen. Craig Kennedy urged the other Senate Judiciary Committee members on Tuesday to read the commission's report from its 2016 round of work.

"I found it very understandable and I found it very persuasive," Kennedy, D-Yankton, said.

The committee voted 6-1 to defer the bill. Rusch cast the only nay.

The senators who favor joint custody saw their legislation defeated 14-21 in the Senate on Feb. 1. Prime sponsor of SB 72 was Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City. One of the chief opponents was Rusch, a retired judge.

The next move came from first-year Rep. Tom Pischke, R-Dell Rapids. He introduced the same joint-custody legislation in the House on Feb. 2.

Pischke testified against the child-support legislation at public hearings held by the House and the Senate committees.

On Tuesday Pischke said he was "disappointed" that Rusch brought back the same child-support that had lost in the House.

"I don't think that this is probably the right time," Pischke told the Senate panel.

Sen. Lance Russell, the Senate committee chairman, questioned the mechanics of the commission Tuesday.

Russell, R-Hot Springs, said the system "in a number of respects fails the individuals." He said he doesn't know how long the child-support bill should be deferred.

"It is a significant issue but unfortunately I don't think the bill is as robust as it should have been," Russell, a lawyer, said.

Feb. 23 is the deadline for lawmakers to finish consideration of legislation in its first chamber. A hearing date hasn't been scheduled yet for Pischke's joint-custody bill, HB 1203, by the House Judiciary Committee.

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